Letters: The Care System

Parents seen as a problem
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The Independent Online

The disturbing but ultimately uplifting case of Steven Neary ("Father reunited with son after secret court battle to win his liberty", 10 June) graphically demonstrates that the care system tends to act in a way that is intrinsically anti-family. This isn't universal and staff don't set out to marginalise or exclude families, but it is institutionalised.

Instead of relatives being viewed as expert informants, allies and sources of durable support long after staff have moved on, they tend to be seen as rivals or adversaries, or some kind of threat to what professionals happen to deem is in the best interests of the service user.

Often, professionals are so absorbed in their particular understanding and management of a case that relatives are almost invisible to them. Any number of homicide inquiry reports document a critical failure to listen to or consult relatives who invariably know much better than staff what is going on in both the actual and psychological life of the patient concerned.

This tendency to develop negative attitudes towards family members isn't confined to the care of adults. The fall-out from the Victoria Climbie and Baby P cases has been an increased, institutional hostility towards relatives, justified always on the grounds that the best interests of the child are paramount, though, of course, being pro-child doesn't mean you have to be anti-parent.

Health and care agencies will protest that through policy and practice they take the opinions and needs of carers very seriously, but fine words don't shift a deep-seated organisational culture. Let's hope Mr Justice Jackson's strong criticism of Hillingdon council's attitude towards Steven's father can be a catalyst for a fundamental change in the way all agencies work with families.

Jeremy Walker

London WC1

Mark Neary's case again demonstrates how the rights of people with autism and their families are all too often denied or go unheard.

Coming so soon after the horror of Winterbourne View private hospital, it shows that we must all ensure people with autism and their families are listened to and have a choice in their care. Local authorities and other service providers should be measured on how successfully they listen to people with autism and ensure that services fully reflect need.

Jolanta Lasota

Chief Executive, Ambitious about Autism,

London N10

Archbishop defies Coalition

Having given the Etonian Coalition a bit of a biffing, might the Archbishop of Canterbury at last summon up the courage to administer chastisement in his own church, taking on his homophobic brethren in Africa and old-school dog-collar misogynists here at home.

Peter Forster

London N4

Rowan Williams is showing why he wears a cross. The cuts are impacting on the poor, not the rich, and he is right to say so. I know whose side Christ would have been on.

Collin Rossini

Bradwell, Essex

What a shame the Archbishop of Canterbury didn't speak out against the Iraq war. That cost thousands of lives and millions of pounds. What is worse, it increased hatred between people, something more worthy of criticism than the Coalition's attempts to reform failing systems.

Why was the Church of England silent when it should have provided powerful opposition to Tony Blair?

Betty Harris

London N1

Who among the populace voted for Rowan Williams to speak for us? Is Cameron already tweeting, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent weirdo?"?

Bernard Smith

Hailsham, East Sussex

Burchill, Toksvig and the C-word

What on earth was the motive behind Julie Burchill's hate piece about Sandi Toksvig? ("The unbearable smugness of Sandi – and what the C-word really means", 9 June.)

It's a sign of desperation in a columnist when personal attributes are mocked to bolster an argument – Toskvig's race, her sexual orientation, her public-school accent ("daft-old-colonel voice"). How might Burchill feel were I to describe her own high-pitched childish voice as that of a south London primary school girl?

Contrary to Burchill's assertion, while Toksvig presents more than one Radio 4 programme, only one of these is a comedy – The News Quiz. In this she reads from a script which is credited to someone else at the end of the programme. The joke Burchill refers to was accordingly not hers. That said, her ad-libs during the programme are both quick-witted and funny.

Ian Taylor

Northington, Hampshire

I nearly spat out my sausage roll at Terry's Caff on Thursday morning when I looked at the front page of The Independent. The reason? Sheer delight at seeing the puff for Julie Burchill's piece: "New Sandi Toksvig obscenity shock: she isn't funny". The anticipation of seeing her put into words far more eloquently than I could just why this woman is annoying had me ordering more tea.

The unfunny Ms Toksvig has long been "on my bus". This is an imaginary bus plunging off a cliff. One can put whomever one wants on this bus. Thatcher drives most of my friends' buses.

Martin Brandon

London N19

I was bewildered by the rant by Julie Burchill against the spontaneous wit and chairmanship of Sandi Toksvig. Much appeared to be directed against a remark, "It's the Tories who put the 'n' into 'cut', " made last October.

It took a moment or two for me to infer what Ms Burchill implied because I had assumed immediately that a Dane working for many years in England was making a historical reference to King Cnut who, as Prince of Denmark, conquered England almost a thousand years ago and united the warring factions through bonds of wealth and custom.

John Alexander

Frampton Cotterell, Gloucestershire

Notwithstanding Julie Burchill's disapproval, Sandi Toksvig usually does a very good job of putting the "c" into "lass"'.

Anita Howard

Passage West, Co Cork, Ireland

Julie Burchill is wrong. The C-word is useful for comedy, emphasis or impact because it is taboo, not because it refers to female genitalia. Otherwise we'd still be balking at "pratt" and "twat" to this day. It's clear that she dislikes poor old Sandi Toksvig and Stephen Fry's style of intellectual twitter, but what she really objects to is that other people do like it. Perhaps the problem is hers, not theirs?

Joss Knight


Julie Burchill's offence at the C-word as insult is misplaced. There are no other synonyms for vagina that we use as insults in remotely the same way. Compare the equivalents for the male member: "cock", "dick" and "tool" can all be used as insults, suggesting a clear link between the literal and pejorative meanings. But call someone a fanny, snatch or minge and you'll get a blank look.

The C-word-as-insult may have started with genital connotations, but it's use now is purely about the satisfying conjunction of guttural and plosive in one Anglo-Saxon monosyllable. Men who use it aren't necessarily misogynists, nor women self-oppressing: they just appreciate how expressive a word it is.

Andrew Sharp

London E3

I counted eighteen times Julie Burchill uses "I", "I've" or "I'd" in reference to herself in her three pieces this week. The pieces, incidentally, begin with the words "I", "I" and "I've".

It's ironic, therefore, that she should say of Sandi Toksvig and Stephen Fry: "The smugness and self-obsession of any brats they banged out would surely send the I-Love-Me Meter into meltdown."

Ben Saunders

Mitcham, Surrey

If Julie Burchill used a case of a mentally ill black man murdering someone as justification for calling black people "psychopaths", there would be justifiable outrage, and she would rightly be seen as using an unfortunate incident as an excuse to promote personal prejudice. Sadly this is exactly what she did in her comment about cyclists.

I hope that The Independent will never stop printing controversial views. But Ms Burchill's invective, as evidenced by this piece, is intellectually dishonest.

Brian Moore


IVF: a right to fair treatment

Of course there's no "right" to have a baby (letter, 10 June). However, there is certainly a right for NHS patients in need to be able to access the infertility services that the NHS says it provides (indeed, has been instructed to provide, by Nice) without having to experience a postcode lottery or arbitrary restrictions on treatment set at the whim of primary care trusts ("The baby lottery", 7 June).

The infertile pay tax like everyone else and some of it goes to support other people's children as well as antenatal, postnatal and maternity services.

Incidentally, as Katherine Scholfield is concerned about this "tiny, fragile, finite earth", I do hope she has refrained from being so "self-indulgent" as to have any children herself.

Josie Aston

Bromley, Kent

Back to books

Barnett's is a tiny independent village bookshop in Wadhurst, East Sussex, which survives only thanks to its superb personal service and the fanatical loyalty of (most of) its customers. During my shift there last week one of them rang the shop. We hadn't seen her for a while and she was in a panic. Had we a copy of The Lacuna, she asked. It was her book-club meeting that night and she'd nearly finished reading it when her Kindle broke. It was nice to be able to help.

Sue Gaisford

London W6

Mild nemesis

When I saw John Malkovich described as Harold Pinter's "political nemesis" ("Malkovich and Pinter: an unlikely alliance", 10 June) I imagined there must have been titanic and fateful battles between the pair along the lines of Hector and Achilles, Napoleon and Wellington or even Holmes and Moriarty. A bit disappointing then to read further on that "their meetings would have been mutually admiring and candid" and that they may or may not have discussed their political differences over Israel.

Jonathan Wallace

Newcastle upon Tyne

Perspectives on the red kite

Return of an ancient terror

I am fascinated by Richard Ingrams's curious campaign against the red kite (4 June). Apparently these menacing, malevolent and unappealing birds are striking fear into the citizens of Buckinghamshire, the Home Counties and beyond. A child was cut on the arm and needed a tetanus injection. Better the species become extinct than that such horrors should be inflicted upon us!

How many children require tetanus injections after being scratched by cats or dogs? Wasps sting and snakes bite; abroad, lions, tigers and hippopotamuses occasionally kill people. I presume Mr Ingrams would prefer that these and other dangerous species should also be eradicated.

Should you happen to be a tiger, whose numbers have declined from an estimated 100,000 in India in 1900 to around 3,000 today, you might think that man is the menacing, malevolent and unappealing creature.

Take courage, Mr Ingrams! The red kite was a common bird in Shakespeare's day, and yet England achieved a literary, cultural and economic flowering at that time despite that testing circumstance. Let us hope that the people of Britain retain the fibre and firmness of character to be able to withstand the return of the red kite terror.

L Warwick-Haller

Durley, Hampshire

Your Saturday columnist Richard Ingrams often discusses three of his favourite topics, the proliferation of red kites, the Jewish lobby and why computers are not all they're cracked up to be. Perhaps if the Jewish Chronicle could develop a website devoted to the encouragement of red kites, he could write about all three at once, saving time and effort.

Joanne Soroka